‘All hail the kale’ was a big craze on the health food scene a year or so ago. Incidentally, that was the first thing that I thought of when I saw all the VR/AR banners at the Learning Technologies 2017 show a few weeks back.
Virtual Reality seems to have finally arrived and as learning designers we’re tempted to buy into its promise of effortless learner engagement and, let’s be honest, an opportunity to play around with the gadgets ourselves!
As a teenager I applied for a job as a cashier at a major high-street pharmacy. The first round of assessment, with compliance in mind, was an online quiz on good practices and ethics. We had thirty statements and had to give a true or false answer to each. One of the statements was:
True or false: “It is always wrong to steal.”
Quite a stupid question to offer a generation that grew up on Aladdin!
And so, within minutes of interacting with an employer I was being trained to lie to them. Rather ironic for a test designed to ensure quality of character. In comparison, I applied for a similar position at a popular British department store. They had an excellent test that put you on the shop floor with day-in-the-life challenges. I tried to follow the same line and rightly failed. Their ethics test was good, it filtered for dishonesty and heartlessness.
And yet, even as good Instructional Designers, we all too easily fall into the trap of writing compliance interactions like this:
Saffron Interactive to deliver key seminar on gamification and behavioural science at Learning Technologies exhibition
UPDATE: Slides and video of the seminar are now available, register to receive them here.
Saffron Interactive (stand E15), will be hosting a seminar on both days of the Learning Technologies exhibition on 1 – 2 February. Attendees will gain invaluable insights into the implications of gamification and behavioural science for learning and performance technologies, most notably through employee engagement.
One of my Saffron colleagues wrote a blog last year, Musings on my performance appraisal, in which he considered how he could build time into his day for reflection on improving business performance. Well, his blog did part of its job, getting me thinking – well, reflecting to be more accurate – on the power of reflection. One reflection led to another and then to this blog, where I’m exploring the impact reflection can have on learning.
Reflection is a search for connections, a way of linking and constructing meaning from our learning and experiences that encourages the creation of insights and even wisdom. Reflection links a current experience to previous learnings. This involves drawing upon cognitive and emotional downloads from a variety of sources including visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile, as well as intuition. Reflection creates self-knowledge; it helps us take responsibility for our own learning and development; it is a tool for continuous improvement.
The movie Avatar is on TV again, but in 2009, when it was released, did you subject yourself to the 2 hours and 42 minutes because you thought you were one of the few who hadn’t seen it? And do you try to avoid the ‘free taster’ stands in supermarkets because you can’t trust yourself not to buy something from them afterwards? And don’t even get me started on the stampedes caused by a rare Pokémon appearing in Hyde Park…
I have a friend called Ed. He is smart, alert and doesn’t try too hard to be funny. Separate to this, he is a Reinsurance Analyst. No-one knows what a Reinsurance Analyst is, few care to find out. This creates a quandary because he likes his job, it’s interesting and he wants to talk about it. But it’s hard, because there are few ways to sell Reinsurance analysis without trying too hard to be funny. Few listen.
To anyone who doubts the great pace of human accomplishment, I give you this anecdote: I had to spend a bank holiday reading the works of a 16th century French philosopher to impress a Welsh girl.
Thesis v1: Bespoke elearning will never be produced by robots. Artificial intelligence is simply not going to replace the blood, sweat and tears of instructional designers, graphic designers, developers and project managers.
And when it does, we will find other things for them to do.
Let me explain. An algorithm can put text and pictures together and format them. An algorithm can assemble meaningful questions from raw content. In other words, an algorithm can probably do what a bad instructional designer or a bad elearning developer can do.
But the algorithm cannot choose the best picture. The algorithm cannot devise the right question. It cannot do what a good instructional designer can do. And as soon as it can, the good instructional designer will go one better.
I’m being deliberately contradictory. And this blog post is not the place to solve the conundrum of what endows a digital object with value. But I suspect it’s human effort, not software.
‘This time, Nigel,’ Vivienne insisted, ‘we want some different and special and not the same old, same old that we can get from any other elearning provider.’ Michael, a senior manager at the same management consultancy was equally demanding: ‘When it comes to the test, for heaven’s sake don’t call it a “quiz” (which sounds as though it’s something trivial, we need to test their ability to apply what they’ve learnt and not simply to repeat phrases from Schwab’s The Fourth Industrial Revolution.) We need consultants in the field who can do so much more than simply talk the talk – that’s the added value that our clients are paying for.’
How best to respond to “We’d like just nuggets, please”?
Am I right to feel a little uneasy when a customer or potential customer (I can’t bring myself to use the ugly term ‘prospect’) says that all they want is ‘just nuggets’?
In the back of my mind there’s a kindly relative asking “Just nuggets, Dear? Really? That doesn’t sound like a nourishing meal to me! “
“Are you sure you’re eating properly?”
The Instructional Designer role has never been considered particularly cool. But, just like mainstream indie or double roundabouts, the only reason it hasn’t been replaced is that no one’s agreed on a suitable alternative. Come to think of it, it’s pretty hard to pin down exactly what an ID is meant to be doing. Wikipedia quotes Utah State’s University to say that Instructional Designers create “instructional experiences which make the acquisition of knowledge and skill more efficient, effective, and appealing.” That’s a start, but this kind of definition feels problematic. For example, what’s an ‘instructional experience’? Presumably it’s one that instructs the learner in their topic of choice, but how can this be effective and appealing without the presence of an instructor to breathe life into the words? And why does the definition put such emphasis on efficient acquisition? Surely learners must be able to acquire knowledge at their own pace in order to retain new skills and information in the long term.
To be effective, elearning has to be on a par with the best face-to-face training in its engagement, memorability, and potential for behaviour change. It has to put the learner’s needs at its heart while living up to their employer’s expectations. It has to prove its own worth through creating measurable change. The world is awash with compelling digital media and new generations of professionals have a world of choice at their fingertips. How, then, is elearning going to make an impact? Well, we could lose the Instructional Design title for a start. And let’s face it, the market’s already flooded with alternatives. People are being as creative with their job title as they are in their design. Here are just a few options to pick from. Do any of them apply to what you do?
In an age of simplified, some might say distilled, mobile gaming where simple interactions lead to addictive gameplay (i.e. ‘flappy bird’, ‘angry birds’, anything to do with birds) – businesses and instructional designers have desperately grasped for a mechanic that can transform their learning from mind-numbing compliance into addictive learning gameplay.
For me, however, they seem to be grasping at the wrong mechanics. Scoring and rankings are great, but they require difficulty to become interesting (if Flappy Bird was easy, it would never have caught on). That difficulty is the mechanic through which a user, or a learner, becomes interested in bettering themselves and beating the game. The difficulty in flappy birds is derived from the precision it requires to guide the least aero-dynamically shaped bird in existence through an increasingly complex series of jutting pipes.
Lists. Often when talking to clients about designing a dashboard for an LMS, we have to gently remind them that ‘at the end of the day, guys, it’s just a list’. A list of courses, a list of action points, a list of statuses or a list of things to do. That’s not a bad thing, as lists are also deeply satisfying things – they are how we throw a hoop around our complex lives so we can sit back and say: ‘that’s under control.’ And as BuzzFeed’s success demonstrates, absolutely any content is immediately more appealing if it’s in a numbered list.
Creating a sequel is easier said than done. We’ve seen some software, games and movies losing the plot completely. But, with Storyline 2, Articulate have excelled themselves. Storyline 2 includes new and enhanced features, giving us multiple ways to bring our content to life with more control over how it looks and behaves. The new and enhanced features are exciting but I should warn you: as much as I love it, it runs a little sluggishly.
With a new office and new website, the past few months have been a busy time for Saffron! To top it all off, we’ve also introduced new brand guidelines. Two of our team members, Sonja Gebetshammer and Carina Weingast, have been charged with updating Saffron’s branding, and they’re here to share their insider knowledge about how they’ve transformed the Saffron brand.
When it comes to iconic figures in pedagogy, you can’t deny that Mary Poppins’ learning approaches were well ahead of the curve. Whilst watching Saving Mr Banks last weekend (if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it), I realised that there’s plenty we can learn from Mary P’s approach. She knew about everything: from gamified learning, to the endowment principle. This blog post will take a look at a few occasions on which Mary P showed us how a successful learning intervention can be done: Read more
When I started as a new Instructional Designer at Saffron, I had to get my head around an abundance of new ‘systems’ in a short space of time. Of course, I didn’t think of them all as systems at the time, but when I stopped to think about what the word meant, I realised that countless new ones must be learnt and familiarised with whenever you enter a new environment. From working out how to get to work on time every day (still a struggle!), to mastering the various software applications that Saffron use; my cognitive faculties were busy getting to grips with systems all day.
Is 2014 the year gamification can be taken of the ‘to do’ list and put into practice? While it has been a buzzword in the elearning industry for years now, it seems like this year the time has come for gamification to start delivering real benefits for online learning.
Once upon a time, I thought that my interest in communication was only in words, grammar, and syntax. Thrilling though those subjects are, I’ve discovered that communication runs deeper than characters on a page, or even spoken language. It is something that we experience with every one of our senses.
Watching a toddler negotiate obstacles is fascinating, especially the ‘toy under the table’ scenario. Running full pelt, all the focus is on their favourite toy, not the height of the table … BANG! Need I say more? 10 days later, the same scenario is playing out, but this time upon reaching the table, the toddler ducks.
Having been raised in a household of oral storytelling, stories have been in my life blood since the day I could understand language and narrative. Being able to explore human behaviour and cultural differences through stories has always fascinated me. So when I listened to a webinar involving Pat Kenny, a national e-learning manager from the Health Service Executive, that discussed using storytelling in e-learning it, it made me think.
Like most of Londoners, I rely on tube transportation to travel around the city. When on the tube, I usually spend my commuting time playing video games on my smartphone. When I look around I realise that many others, like me, are immersed in trying to solve puzzles, escape from zombies, shoot pigs, and so on.
Have you ever wondered why the US produces so many radical innovators like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Google duo Larry Page and Sergey Brin and why Germany produces expert business builders like the Samwer brothers? Or why people in the UK and the US tend to go to university or college to study general subjects like English, Economics, Engineering or the coveted MBA whereas people in Germany tend to study industry specific subjects like Technology, Education and Nursing at Germany’s professional universities? Have you considered how employment law might influence your employees’ incentives to develop skills that are relevant to your business? And what effect might this have on the type of products and services that these countries deliver as well as their capacity to innovate?
This year, the Learning at Work Day theme is ‘Learning for Growth’. The constant availability of mobile learning already makes it ideal for self-development, but are you making the most of this medium?
When we take a look at compliance training, we often try to “justify” the learning to the reluctant user by listing the all of the empirical stuff that provides the context for the business case. “Data protection is important for us at Compuglobal Hypermeganet because in <insert recent year> there were <insert massive figure> breaches of data for our industry resulting in <insert inordinately large amount of money> in fines.” And yeah, it serves a purpose, to a point. Examples like this are an attempt at what we like to describe as a “war story” – using the worst case scenario to illustrate what a breach in compliance means.
Looking back on last year, it seems that 2011 saw the English usage debate heat up, with plain English advocators angling their bayonets against the mountain of corporate jargon that permeates the modern workplace. And as an e-learning supplier, this is a matter close to Saffron’s heart.
It’s the office Christmas party and everyone’s taking their seats at the table. Who would you rather sit next to, the rather dull colleague in the lovely dress or the one with the great stories who you really get on with? An e-learning course’s ‘look’ is important… but its ‘personality’ is paramount.
Does a good-looking course qualify as good quality? What about an ordinary course that brings about great behavioural change? I’m sure the argument can be extended to both sides. But my argument is to take the middle-path (very Buddha-like indeed, except I see no chance of Nirvana!).
Instructional design day one!
So today is my first day at Saffron as an Instructional Designer. Having worked part-time as a supply teacher whilst studying, and coming to the end of an MA in Creative Writing, I wanted to try my hand at working in a business environment, whilst not leaving behind the things I enjoy; landing a position as an ID at Saffron has struck the perfect balance. Here I have the opportunity to continue doing the things I love, whilst gaining experience both in business, and e-learning.
That’s English composer Cornelius Cardew’s title, not mine. It’s also the title of a Confucian text, as translated by Ezra Pound, the first chapter of which Cardew uses within his composition of the same name. It begins as follows:
What The Great Learning teaches is – to illustrate illustrious virtue; to renovate the people; and to rest in the highest excellence.
Inspiration can come from the strangest places. Personally, I think that Jeff Wayne’s musical masterpiece War of the Worlds is a perfect model for effective e-learning. Bear with me on this one…
By the end of this blog you will:
- Know what a learning objective is and why you need to write them.
- Understand why it’s so important to write learning objectives.
- Be able to write good learning objectives.
e-Learning, and the discussions around it, tends to polarise people. Nobody really sits on the fence – broadly speaking, they are for it (normally, those with a keen sense of the cost of training) or they are against it (those who believe in traditional pedagogy).
I have often seen courses where the learner has to read information in a popup on clicking a button. This click appears with its associated learner instruction and at times is just ornamentation on the screen. If this happens too frequently in a course, the learner starts responding in almost ‘Pavlov-esque’ fashion: a conditioned reflex (okay, so it was the dog and not Pavlov that responded, but you see my point!). The course is no longer entertaining and certainly not engaging. However by definition you could say it is interactive!
Working as an instructional designer is a very logical thing for a student of English. There’s plenty of reading, for a start, and the variety of material is a great way of keeping your literacy razor sharp. But there’s often the temptation to lapse into Modern Business Jargon (let’s call it MBJ). For example, starting an email with..
Someone came onto our stand at the Learning Technologies the other week and asked, ‘OK, so you people at Saffron know social learning. What about anti-social learning?’ That intriguingly sly question got me thinking about what our role is in facilitating learning in our customers’ organisations: what exactly is it that we be should aiming to design and implement?
Imagine that a group of people each have a box with something in it. Let’s call it a ‘beetle.’ No one can look into anyone else’s box, and everyone says they know what a beetle is only by looking at their beetle. It would be possible that everyone has something different in their box. Maybe the box is even empty.
Mantras such as ‘check, check and check again’ are often bandied around in the workplace, but what can we do to make sure our QA of everything we roll out is 100 per cent foolproof?
What is the Multiple Intelligences theory?
For the most part, it’s common sense! Penned by Howard Gardener in 1983, the theory describes what those of us who went to school already knew: Different people learn in different ways.
An interesting debate has begun in our office of late – to storyboard or not to storyboard? I can almost hear the collective intake of breath that I dared even ask this question, but here at Saffron we are all about challenging norms and finding new solutions to old problems, so I’m going to push forward regardless.
If you had to pick your favourite e-learning interaction, which would it be, and why? For me it’s easy: the myth and reality screen takes the top spot. “But why?” I hear you cry. Here are my top three reasons (although I do have many more!).
How often do you learn something new? And I mean completely new – something you’ve never heard of before or perhaps something you’ve never tried. What’s the process that you go through to learn this new knowledge or skill?
A storyboard review stage is crucial as it’s hard to be objective when you’re the one who’s written the content. Here are our top ten questions to ask yourself if you’re the one reviewing someone else’s storyboard.
The challenge facing instructional designers is always to think of new ways to make our learning courses interesting, engaging and effective. We look at how we can make the best course possible by focusing on the technologies, design, graphics, content and writing style, but what about thinking about a course’s personality?
We at Saffron don’t like to pigeon hole ourselves as simply training providers. Yes, we design and develop e-learning, but we do a whole lot more than that too. We’re all about performance improvement and people productivity, and there are more ways to achieve those things than training alone.